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More Essen games played

'London' was my most aniticpated Essen game. I like Martin's designs, i'm a Londoner - what could go wrong? The interaction, or lack of it, is I think the biggest problem with the game. The other mechanics are clever and interesting enough to make it worth playing however in both of my games there was little scope for negative drafting as players are focused on their own cities. In both of my games i went brown for money, then bought boroughs then went for a clean up. Both times i was paying for cards with some great brown cards, which were sitting waiting for me on the next round. Maybe with expereince players won't aloow one player to dominate one colour; however i am not sure how they could stop without clogging their hand up with cards that don't fit their strategy. Both games were also three player affairs and i wonder if it would shine as a two player where you can interact more through the drafting. Regardless of my views its been a phenomenal seller; from my limited viewpoint the biggest selling Wallace release for years.

I had read about the obsucre 2004 hit Tahuantinsuyu but not played it. Were 'Inca Empire' not a reprint (all be it with a couple of small changes and swish Zman makeover) i think this might be one of the hit's of the show. The network and building part of the game are straightforward, but the aim of feeding of other players networks makes for the most enjoyable gameplay. The aim is be as parastical as possible, while minimising the efforts of the other players to do the same to you. The other delicious part of the game is the sun cards which benefit you and another or harm your opponents.

'Habemus Pape' from DDD Verlag is a departure in that it is not designed by the Kuhn brothers. The standard of the game is just as high as previous releases ('Uruk' and 'Wiege der Renaissance') from this publisher. Over about 20 auction rounds players are trying to have the most influence over the election of the Pope. It's simple to play with subltly different routes to victory and has always produced a close finish

Essen - serial,rather than parallel

Last year I did the Essen releases in parallel - lots of game played once, and then the self same games played again. This year i have been getting to know the games one by one in some depth: -Partly because the pressure of work means i have not had neither the time or mental capacity to absorb new rules, and partly because i have enjoyed some games so much I have played them multiple times.

It's a bit early to pass judgement on the 2010 crop however i am going to stick my neck out and say. like 2009, its an 'average to good' year; with no 'bolt from the sky' new game.

The closest to a great game so far is Mac Gerdt's Navegador. It’s his fifth Rondel game and his best. I am have played it six times and no two games have followed the same course, mainly because the game provides a framework for the player's to engage with each and not with the game system. It’s a joy to be playing a game that demands you sepnd as much time looking at your opponents boards as much as your own and having to plan and adjust depending on the players to your left and right. The maimn cause of this is the market mechanism - which is one of the best i have seen on a boardgame because it lets you transact on both 'sides' of a commodity.

The complete opposite of a game that engages you with your fellow players is 20th Century. For long periods of the game players are self absorbed in their tableau micro managing the best placement of tiles. For me it's a complete turn off and a bore. Moreover it has a UK RRP of £50 which is extortionate for what you get in the box.

'Troyes', from new publisher Pearl Games, has a very interesting game driver in the use of dice. The mechanic is engaging and really requires players to use a different sort of thought process to progress. However, you are progressing along the well worn path of fighting off bad events, building a cathedral and secret bonus cards. Like 'Egizia' and 'Vasco Da Gama' from 2009 the mechanics make the game, and whilst that might make it a good game (one i have played five times so far) i wonder about its longevity.

'Grand Cru' is from new designer Ulrich Bluhm, is a fairly brutal economic game with a weakish wine theme; 'Age of Syrah' as one of my game partners quipped comparing it to Wallace's train game. The comparison is apt and i wonder if it's unforgiving nature has caused mixed reviews? The game is a procession of small, incremental actions that if got wrong caan cost you the game. There’s no catch up mechanism and if you make the (most common )mistake of incorrectly valuing a succession of tiles you are out before you started. I have played it three times, keep thinking about the game and want to play it more often.

When i get time i will post my thoughts on 'Incan Empire', 'Habemus Pape' and 'London'

Era of Inventions - a review by Neil Walters

This is one of about a dozen games I had earmarked on my shortlist of highly probables before I went to Essen. I had already read the rules online so I had a good idea of how it played, and a game about the development and production of inventions at the turn of the 20th century was thematically appealing and unusual as well. I’ve now played this game three times, a 4 player and a 5 player twice. All have been different and although there is nothing significantly new in the game play, there is a subtle re-mixing of the usual ingredients that gives the game a different feel that I like. The box advertises a playing time of 90 minutes and for once such a claim is pretty much spot on.

Era of Inventions is a game for between 3 to 5 players that uses that quite recent favourite and well trusted euro mechanic of “action selection” (“worker placement” if you prefer). Describing how the game works is simply done. You place two action tokens (three in a 3 player game) one at a time in an empty slot in one of the six action areas on the board. Each action area has two slots available, so twelve slots all told. You then carry out those actions one at a time in any order. Both activities are carried out in strict player order. In addition, players also start the game with between one and five extra action tokens again depending upon the number of players. One of these can be used at any time and in any area after a regular action. Apart from the odd bit of end of turn tidying up and preparations for the following round that’s all there is to it. In a sentence, stick your tokens down and do the actions. Which is actually quite a pleasant change.

The simplicity of the mechanics leaves you free to concentrate on the interesting bits such as deciding what your best selections will be bearing in mind what other players are doing, your position within the turn order and how best to manage your scarce resources. Turn order is important as first player rotates clockwise after each round. This means that the first player in turn one will be the last player is turn two, so there is definitely an element of forward planning required here, as actions that you would ideally like to take next turn will not necessarily be available. For me this adds to the challenge.

The idea of the game is to turn your scarce resources into a combination of factories (to produce different resources), designing new inventions (for mainly VPs or possibly cash) and producing the aforesaid new inventions (for VPs or cash). It is not sufficient to concentrate just on one of these activities alone, but equally spreading your actions too thinly across all three activities will likely dilute your overall potential. There is a finite number of regular actions in the game so you need to make them count.

Two of the action areas relate to factories, one to buy factories and the other that allows you to produce with all the factories you currently own. Two more areas specifically relate to the inventions. The first is the design area where you make your claim for one of nine different inventions ranging from a typewriter up to an aeroplane; the latter takes more resources to develop but earns far more prestige (VPs) as you might expect. Players can also develop a secondary (upgrade) of the same invention for VPs and possibly cash later on if it is produced. An alternative action in this same area is to buy patents for instant and possible end of game VPs and also gives some protection if you opponents produce fakes of your own inventions. Each invention is represented by three cards (two real and one fake) and once developed these will be shuffled together into the mix of existing invention cards for inclusion in the next round. This is where the second invention area comes in. Seven invention cards are laid out in the ‘produce inventions’ area at the start of a round which are available for production by any player. A nice feature here is that you will earn extra VPs if another player produces one of your inventions. However one of the things that you cannot guarantee is that your own inventions will turn up. This random element might bother some, but is not an issue for me.

As to the final two action areas, one lets you buy groups of resources for cash while the other is an exchange mechanism for trading up your cash and/or resources in exchange for other resources, cash, VPs and even additional extra action tokens. As an alternative to exchanging, you could just acquire a ‘development cog’ (required for developing inventions) instead.

Along with many other games, this is an exercise in efficiency and timing, and a very good one at that. I have seen a game won with loads of factories, and in contrast another where the winner has not bought or produced any factories at all. But for some reason Era of Inventions has sadly been lost in the plethora of new Essen releases. Some criticism has been levelled centred on games that people have played just the once with 5 players, and mainly around the assertion (misplaced I think) that players sitting in 4th and 5th position at the start of the game are at an acute disadvantage. While I don’t agree this is necessarily the case (two of my games have in fact been won by the player in 4th start position), I do think it is unfortunate that new designer Anthony Daamen advertised the game for five players. Had he stuck to a 3 to 4 player format and posted a health warning if you wanted try it out with five (much as Uwe Rosenberg did with Le Havre) then I feel Eof I would be getting a more positive press.

It is fair to say though that the five player version is a lot more challenging to play and less forgiving on mistakes. Here you have 20 regular actions total plus just the one extra action token, whereas in a four player you have 16 regular actions and five extra actions. Without knowing the reason why there should be such a disparity, it is clear that the four player version allows far more flexibility not only from the increased number of extra actions available but also because there is less congestion for available action slots. In three player with its whopping 27 regular actions and three extra actions, I suspect that the game is likely to be even more forgiving to play. I’m now really keen to try the game with this number.

A final word on the artwork and components. The graphics are a touch on the wrong side of arty for my tastes. The action slots blend in with the artwork on the board and could have been a little more conspicuous. For clarity, some of the colour combinations on the wooden bits could have been better (the white and natural colour resource cubes for example), but you get used to it after a couple of games.

These minor reservations don’t detract and ultimately the game’s the thing. As a Winsome season ticket holder for many years, you’ll know what I mean. Hopefully the above will give you a good idea of whether the game is for you. I’ve really enjoyed my games so far and I’m looking forward to playing again soon.

Paul's note : Era of Inventions was published in a limited edition English run of 500 copies that sold out at Essen 2010. I am selling the German version, will provide English rules adn as the game is language independent thats all you need to get playing

Railroad Barons - a review by Nigel Buckle

Usually I don’t bother to go into details of game mechanics in a review, but the rulebook for this game is so awful [Paul's note: there is a new set of rules available for download http://lookout-games.de/wp-content/uploads/RB_rules_new.zip] I think it is worth doing so in this case, just so the readers know which rules I was using to play the game that led to this review! I’ll give my thoughts first and then an overview of the rules after for those who are interested.

This is advertised as an 18xx game for 2 people playable in 45 minutes – and it comes in a small box. You get a deck of cards, some wood markers a stock price track and some nice paper money (although I’m sure many 18xx fans would substitute this for poker chips).

The rulebook that comes with the game assumes you know 18xx games, if you don’t it will be rather incomprehensible, and even if you do it will depend on which 18xx games you’ve played. It certainly took me a little while to figure out how to play. There is a revised rulebook on Lookout’s website – but even that is missing a rather crucial rule (you can pay for a railroad company from your own cash if your holding company has insufficient funds, but this is optional – a rather different case to most 18xx games).

I seriously doubt the 45 minute play time – unless both are a seasoned 18xx players and able to calculate income (you’ll have to make calculations such as 23 x 7 and so on) or have a spreadsheet or calculator to hand. Both games I’ve played have taken over 90 minutes.

If you are a fan of 18xx games and want the ‘experience’ of such a game for 2 players in a relatively (in terms of 18xx) short time this game is definitely worth a look – but it does depend what aspects of 18xx you like. If it is the laying of track and building up of routes then this game is not for you – there is no board play at all. Similarly if you like the stock manipulations you’ll likely to find the rather static stock market a bit lacking. What aspect of 18xx is covered then if it’s neither the stock market nor the track building! Well it’s the feel of investing in companies and making decisions about what trains (railways in this version) to buy, when to payout, when to take in and which shares to invest in.

There is an initial auction of investors (the replacement for private companies) – there are 5 but only 4 will feature in the game. Each has a cash value and a special power, because the game is only 2 players rather than an auction one player selects which investor (and in the advanced game the value) and the other player either takes the card for the special power OR the cash value, with the first player getting the other.

The train limit and company operations have been cleverly abstracted with a set of network tokens – you can permanently use one per operating round as a $10 boost to revenue (a bit like a station marker) or you use them to indicate how many railway companies you can purchase this round, or how many railway companies you can own at the end of the round. This is very slick – and different companies have a different number of tokens. It gives you some difficult choices, do you increase revenue at the expense of flexibility over manipulating trains (if you own two holding companies you can switch railways like you can switch trains in other 18xx games).

At the start of each stock round (you have a stock round then 2 operating rounds) to top railway company is removed from the game, so even if the players are not forcing a ‘train rush’ (railway rush in this case) the game will. Start of the game the railway companies are level ‘2’ and generate $50, once these first 4 have been purchased (or removed) then the ‘flip’ railways are available, these are level ‘2’ on one side and level ‘3’ the other, you decide which you want (the level ‘3’ costs more, and is not as good as a full level ‘3’). Once they are all purchased (or removed) then you have level 3, then flip 3/4. Once the first 4 (either flipped to its 4 side or a full level 4) is purchased or removed all the level 2 railways are obsolete and removed. Next are 4/5 flip, then 5, then 6 (which remove the level 3’s), then 8’s (which remove the level 4s). The 8’s are also flip cards – either a $800 railway wit $300 income or a $400 railway with $100 income.

Rather than the typical 20% director share and 8 10% shares, this game each holding company has a 40% director share, a 30%, 20% and 10% share - which makes for some interesting purchase decisions as you have a limit of 9 certificates so really want the higher % shares.

Overall, for a low component, low cost, very portable card game this is a surprisingly good take on the 18xx experience. I was pleasantly surprised – and keen to try it again, initially I thought the limited number of companies and simple stock market would lead to a very shallow game with little re-playability; but my first two games were very different, and we were using the ‘first game’ suggestion of fixed value for the investors. One component lacking is a priority marker, even though the rules refer to it (as does an investor card), we just used a pawn from my spares box.

I just wish the system was extended to support more players, as it is an interesting economic game. I recommend it for fans of games that need thinking and calculation, but be prepared to work through the rules several times before trying to play your first game!

Overview of the rules:

Setup – sort the railroads alphabetically. Each player gets $200. Auction 4 of the investors, the remaining one is returned to the box and both players get its printed value.

Game Play – Stock Round, followed by 2 Operating Rounds, until a Holding Company reaches $350 value, at which point the game ends at the end of that Operating round. Player with the most cash (in hand and share value) wins.

Stock Round – Remove a railway company (not the first round), then starting with the holder of the priority each player may first sell any number of shares they like (if the director sells the price drops 1 box, can’t sell if 50% of shares of that company are in the bank). Then may buy a share (but not in holding companies they’ve sold this round). First share bought must be the 40% director share. The company floats (so operates) when 50% is purchased. Certificate limit is 9.

Operating Round – Companies operate in a fixed order. First place tokens – 1 (maximum) can be converted to a network token, rest are either on a + space or a v space. Then calculate revenue = value of railways + any investor held + network tokens, revenue is either taken in (company receives all of it) or paid out to share holders. If paid out stock price increases one box. Then railways can be purchased and/or investors taken (one per + token), then railway limit is checked, company can hold one railway per v token (excess removed from the game).

Navegador - a review by Neil Walters

As a fan of the rondel mechanic, there was little chance that I was not going to like this game. The only question for me then was, what does Navegedor add to the series, particularly compared to Hamburgum to which it more closely resembles in play, to make it worthwhile buying or indeed playing. Without knowing the precise answer why, I do feel this is a better game than its predecessor. The only thing that I can possibly pin it down on is that Hamburgum seems a tad too scripted in what actions you need to take to do well. From plays so far this certainly hasn’t been the case with Navegador. What I am absolutely certain about however is that I’ve already played Navegador twice as much as ever I did Hamburgum in the four weeks since its Essen release, so that must say something I suppose.

Many of you reading this will know the rondel series well, but for the uninitiated it is a very clever but simple device for controlling all the player’s actions. It consists of a circle drawn on the game board divided into eight segments. With the exception of one particular segment, the Market action, which occurs twice, each of the other six are completely different. In your turn you advance your marker up to three segments (you can move further but it’s prohibitively expensive to do) and complete the action on the segment you finally decide to land on. There is no blocking so you have the freedom to plan your future moves as you wish. It also has the advantage that you can see what your fellow players are up to as well. Tension comes with those actions where there is an incentive to get to a particular segment first, as some actions have a limited number of resources or benefit to pick up, or the resources become increasingly more expensive as cheaper ones have already been taken. In my view it is one of the most innovative mechanics to have come out in the last ten years. It’s clean, simple and totally transparent with the added attraction of very little down time in play. Even in five player games it’s your turn again before you know it.

But it’s not good enough having a great mechanic if the rest of the game doesn’t cut the mustard. No fears here either. Set in the 15th century, you are a Portuguese explorer building a colonial empire. You can explore the seas and oceans going east, found colonies, sell sugar, gold and spices for profits to invest in ever more ships to continue your quest eastwards. Or not. You could also be that “stay nearer to home type” of explorer. After all sailing long distances is time consuming and expensive. So why not hang back a little and snaffle up a few colonies that the others have left behind, and perhaps build lots of factories to process the goods for lots of cash instead. Both alternatives might work and can work. I’ve seen both happen successfully. Along the way you can also build churches to recruit workers, shipyards to build your ships and also obtain privileges for instant cash and future victory point potential. It is a game of maximising the efficiency of your actions both in your selection on the rondel but also the volume of benefits you can manage to reap in a single turn. It is also a game where you have to keep a close eye on what the other players are doing, as the market for selling and processing goods is dynamic. Prices could easily have dropped by the time your turn comes round again. You need to be particularly aware of what your right hand neighbour is selling, and be prepared to adopt a flexible strategy. All this adds up to just my type of game.

On the components front, the wooden and cardboard playing pieces are what you would expect of a modern euro game. The artwork on the board is the very best combination of great to look at and total clarity. To be honest, I’m really struggling to come up with any negatives to say about Navegador. There may be some, but if so they’re not immediately apparent to me. Navegador is not totally original of course, but my feeling is that there is a natural progression in the rondel series and on this evidence the games keep improving as they go along. If you liked Hamburgum, you will certainly enjoy Navegador. If you haven’t tried any of the rondel series before, then I think you should consider treating yourself to this one.

As a footnote, I also need to play Hamburgum again as well just to check it out and remind myself what it does different, perhaps with the new Antwerp expansion that apparently includes some new rules. If I do, I’ll let you know.

Guru note : I am in total agreement with Neil. Navegador is my most played Essen game, every game has evolved differemtly, all have come in at about 90 minutes. The best Mac Gerdts design so far.

Civilization the board game

Thoughts, feelings and first impressions after three plays

I had a very long break from boardgaming, not long after Francis Tresham’s masterpiece Civilisation was released, throughout my twenty year long board gaming hiatus Sid Meier’s Pc series was my game of choice, and when I got back into board gaming iIfelt at home because so many of the choices, attempts at efficiency and conflicting prirorites i had enjoyed in the PC game were present in modern board games – and even better you got to play with real human beings. For me a board game of Civilisation is the perfect subject matter, marrying my love of this hobby with nostalgia for night long sessions in front of the PC racing to build my space ship before the Greeks.


You have watched Drakkenstrike's video so you have a good idea of what to expect in the box. There’s lot of it, its nicely produced and when you get it on the table the overall effect if spectacular. The tiles create a varied landscape filled with cities, buildings, scouts and army figures. Each player needs a fair amount of space for their Civilisation card, pyramid, tokens and army unit cards.

Rule book

Its 32 pages long, its one of the best from Fantasy Flight that I have read and after your first game you won’t have to refer to it more than once or twice. The player aids that come with the game have a useful summary of actions and unit costs; I would like to have seen a player booklet with the techs, wonders and buildings described because until you know the game you are going to spend a lot of time leaning over the board looking at the options. I have printed out Kopernicus’s summary and I’d recommend doing the same, there’s a lot of information to take in and having a print out is much easier than constantly having to squint at the cards or put your arm pit in your neighbours face stretching across the table.

The game

The mechanics and actions are straightforward, however when you sit down to play the game you might now how to do it but you don’t know what to do with it. I was immediately struck by the similarity but difference with the computer game experience. You are in a very familiar world but whereas I might restart my sandbox Civilisation game on the PC on a whim, here you can’t – there’s almost instant pressure to get things right and your very visible opponents sitting a few feet away are plotting your downfall.

Each player chooses one of six civilisations to play, grabs there starting tile and slots on to the world of tiles. The Civilisations have different benefits and starting technologies, in the games i have played the winners have played to the strength of their civilisation, for example the Germans start with an extra two armies and gain a unit card whenever they unlock a tech that gives them a military upgrade - this points them towards a military victory, the Romans move up the culture track when they build a wonder or found a city so a cultural victory beckons. However, it’s not that straightforward, advancing towards all of the victory conditions provides its own benefit and putting all of your ‘meepeggs’ in one basket can backfire, i think it’s worth while keeping your options open until the finish line is in sight. A tech victory is within sight of all the players, and you are not going to progress quickly without adding to your pyramid so it’s one that you always have to keep moving towards. In my three games victory has come by Tech, Culture and Military – no one has got close to a coin victory and i suspect it’s the hardest to pull off.

I won;t going into detail about the game mechanics, suffice to say you build cities, trade with other players (this bit has been fun as players swap resources or agree who will be the beneficiary of a tech effect that helps two players), build stuff or collect stuff with your cities, move and fight, then research one tech. Repeat.

What’s obvious and what’s not

In my first game (and I have seen the same in people I have taught the game to) there seems to be some obvious things you need to do – like the computer game. The first thing is to get some buildings in the 8 square outskirts for your city to boost trade, hammers or culture. It also seems quite important to get technologies out as quickly as you can and to get the second city founded asap. Following these ambitions is not going to hurt you, however it’s not a disaster if someone has got a jump on trade production or hammers because there are two very powerful investments you can make for the future which are not obvious. The first is moving up the culture track, the first time i saw this very long long ladder to victory I wrote it off as too difficult to achieve and the action of devoting your city to the arts as time wasted that could be better spent on improving my industrial machine. I was wrong! Every step on the culture track rewards you with either a culture card or a great person. Both are powerful – and the further you get up the culture track the more powerful the cards become – they give you resources (more on these later), they allow you to swap techs, the can kill off opponents units, impoverish their lands. Moreover they are kept hidden so they have the advantage of surprise. ‘Great Persons’ work like buildings, there are six types and they really give a boost to the city they are placed in. The second thing you can do at the beginning is explore the map and take down the huts. The huts have a random resource which you claim when you move into a hut space and these resources can influence which techs you are going to want to research.

The three options you may take with your city is to build (a unit, a wonder or a building), ‘devote to the arts’ which collects culture tokens or collect a resource from within the city boundaries. In my first game I focused on buildings, however using one city as a feeder by collecting resources from its boundary or scouts you have sent out can feed other Cities Wonder building or culture leaps. Having a city surrounded by buildings helps with trade and hammers, but the resource effects on the tech cards can be a subtler and more efficient way of achieving the same end

What’s not obvious is the tech tree, there a mind boggling 36 to choose from, and most have multiple effects; either unlocking the advance that allows you to buy specific buildings or instantly upgrading them, unlocking new government forms, upgrading your army units, increasing your culture hand size, allowing you to spend a resource or multiple resources to some effect – some technologies do multiples of the above. You also have to plan in advance what techs you want to use, because the tech victory requires you to reach the fifth level of the pyramid your selections become more crucial the further you go up – choosing five out level one techs is not too difficult but you only really have three choices at level three and they must all count. I find myself constantly referring to what techs I have and the tech chart to plan it out as efficiently as possible, you don’t want too many duplicates so researching at techs that incrementally upgrade your units from 1 to 2 to 3 can be wasteful (unless of course there is another effect that you need). In all the games I have played I have missed a few opportunities at some point because by the time you are at level three you might have 6 or 7 resource fired options available to you.

The Czech elephant in the room

Should I face execution on the morrow my last request will be for a Steak and the gaoler to sit down for a game of ‘Through the Ages’. It’s my favourite game, my only 10. Civilization is the officially licensed game of the computer series, Through the Ages is its unlicensed heart and soul in board game form. They are very different games, with a different approach to creating the Civilisation experience; Fantasy Flight’s franchise game feels more like the recreation it is, ‘Through the Ages’ a re-imagining. Combat in Through the Ages is a brutal, Zero sum, affair, it can wipe you out of the game and sometimes it is difficult to spot it coming or prepare for it whereas in Civilisation you see it marching across the board towards you, you can delay it, you can build up, hell you might even get lucky with the card draw. What both games share is a tempo increase towards the end, in ‘Through the Ages’ you are seeding the deck with end game bonuses in Civilization the options explode as more techs layer on to your pyramid and you start to accelerate towards one of the victory conditions. The biggest difference between the two is the need to live within your means, in ‘Though the Ages’ there’s lots of it in Civilisation there’s none. Where TTA is closer to the Pc game in that you have to keep your population happy, fed and plan production so you don’t go corrupt – all when known to the PC devotee. In Civilisation these are taken out of the game, but it’s no bad thing as you have so much else to deal with and my thematic rationalisation is that all I do is set with the constraints of living of a balanced society. There are some small constraints in that if i can only build one starred building (Temple, Barracks, Market) in each city and the level two technology ‘Democracy’ prohibits me from attacking other cities (if only in real life....). In summary ‘Through the Ages’ feels like a Euro, Civilisation is a step closer to the dark side.

Flaws and the lack of them

I have not found any to be honest. It is, in part, a multiplayer wargame, so there is always the problem A bashes B then C bashes A and D has a right good laugh about it. There’s a steep to vertical strategy learning curve – for a four hour game this might be too much for the ‘play it twice’ and move on brigade, the flip of that is that after 3 plays and 12 hours I feel like I am scratching the surface and I want to dig deep into what this game has to offer. Another thing I have noticed slowing up play is the amount of counting trade symbols and hammers players have to do. You should be able to remember it from turn to turn but with so much else going on every turn is Groundhog Day. These are not really flaws, more reasons some people might want to steer clear of the game. I have not found the combat part of the game that exciting (apart from the end game capital city bash) , though it’s easy to grasp and does not take very long. I think given the game takes a long time to play its as good a system as could be fitted into a reasonable game length.


Fantasy Flight makes great games, but i don’t play them very often. I recognise that they are imaginative, often innovative and well produced. My problem is the subject matter – i am really not interested in the fortunes of the inhabitants of Terrinoth or the Warhammer universe, and though, for example, ‘Chaos in the Old World’is a stand out game I battle with indifference towards the’ Nurgle’ and friends. But I do care about the Egyptians, Romans and the rest, and the endless bits and pieces that accompany a big FF game make sense to me in Civilisation. I think Euro gamers whose gaming imagination is engaged by the historical and the real will enjoy civilisation – and if they have avoided FF games to date are in for epic treat. And the rest of the world you know already you are going to love this game

Essen and technology

I have packed, counted my Euros and printed off my Spiel preview.Good to go.
For some reason the intro to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales keeps springing to mind, except its October showers not April though Spiel is a pilgramage of sorts.

Since my last post i have added Merchants & Marauders and After Pablo to the buy list. Merchants is on the list because i am still searching for 'the' pirate game and After Pablo because it looks very interesting ; both theme and mechanics wise. There are rumours that the new FF Civ game will be there and whilst i don't believe it i will be heading to the FF stand first thing Thursday morning. Its a shame that Vinhos won't make the shshow, however it will be welcome when it arrives later in November.

My Blackberry packed up last week so i changed up to a Iphone 4. Before i started playing with it i thought mobile phones were just for calls and emails. The Iphone has changed that - it really is amazing and is like carrying round a computer. Of course i downloaded loads of boardgame Apps :- Neuroshima Hex, Wabash, Samurai , Tichu and High Society. All are outstanding - especially Tichu. Apet from Wabash none of these are games that i play very often and i think a Iphone App is a great way of finding out if you like a game or not, or discovering games that i gave not played before. It might sound odd but i am not that interested in playing games that i love face to face against the computer. i don't think the medium is suited to longer games as the omotional investment tails off after 15 minutes or so.

If i have time i will post my first impressions of games i play in Essen.

Essen wishlist

I imagine i am not the only one hitting the refrsh button on boardgamenews Spiel preview, searching for details of the lastest releases.

I have been reading the rules of Essen releases when they become available, and whislt they are not the best guide to how well a games going to play (last year i dismissed Endeavor, Vasco Da gama and Hansa Tuetonica after a rules read - big mistake) they, and the occasional word with play testers, are the only thing to go on.

So whats on my list

Category 'Will wrip it out of the hands of the seller on early Thursday morning'

Master of Economy
7 Wonders
Key Market
Grand Cru

London would be top of this list but its being delivered to Treefrog subscribers before Essen

Category '....Now rush to get these'

51st State
High Fronteir
Porto Carthago

Category '2 hours till back to the hotel go grab'

German Railroads
First Train to Nuremburg
Baltimore and Ohio
New Adlung Spiel
New bambus

Friday will be spent loading up for the shop. Looking at the list, if this was a 'pick up and deliver' game i would not be doing very well - some purcahses can be combined and if i have paid for it it can be left till the afternoon. However, i plan playing on Thursday late into the night and there are on or two games that just must be played (7 wonders springs to mind twice)

There are a few titles which will get a Rio Grande or Z man Uk release within a few weeks of Essen so they are not on the list (Rio del Plata, Incan Empire) so they can wait.

My main aim is not to buy everything i see and come back with a bunch of games that will be played on a regular basis and not traded after a few months (i'm looking at you Megacorps...)

T for Two

Hansa Teutonica is one of my fave games from last years Essen. Not every ones cup of tea though as it is an abstract masquerading as a trading type game.

I tried it as two player yesterday and it did not work as well as with four or five, in fact i'd say it was poor. The inrosuction of the marker that moves around the board means that if one player gets an action advantage they can keep the other player out of the upgrades they need; which spoils the 'rock, paper, scissors, stone' element of the game.

It reminds me that the previous i played was with three and that was poor as well - defiantely best with five or four where the different strategies balance each other out

PowerStruggle and SNCF

Its a mighty fine night when you get to play two new games and both are 8+ raters. The first was 'Power Struggle', the last of my Essen 09 unplayed heavies and a game i have table dodged because after five rules reads i had not progressed beyond flumuxed. This time i was lucky emough to have a PS vet to teach. And what a game! Very reminscent of 'Tribune' in the victory conditions and bonuses for leadership of divisions the game also has a short play time. There is loads going on here, beating you arch enemy, maxing on income and board power, every choice demands the weighing up of five or more factors. Whilst there are similarities with Tribune game this has got a little more going on, in that the bribery action gives a creative feel to game play. I have said this about a lot of Essen 09 games, but this time i thinks its true : this is the pick of the crop. The next 35 minutes of game time was spent on one of Winsomes 2010 Essen pack - SNCF. I thought Winsome had gone as far as possible down this route by discovering sub atomic level train 'n equity games with Wabash, however with SNCF they have found the Quark :- 2 actions build track or trade shares from the same pool as the track cubes, games over when 5 of the 6 cube pools have gone. I prefer CE but its hard to think of a recently released game that packs such a punch in 30 minutes.

Age of Industry wins IGA and some (unfounded) rumours

Congratulations to Martin Wallace for the IGA award to 'Age of Industry' - a very good game from a great designer. I am slightly surprised that it won because of its close resemblance to Brass, however in pure gaming terms I prefer it to most of the other games on the short list.

I was hoping that Dominion : Prosperity was a later September release - it looks like it might be as late as Essen, or even later. This is a shame because there is a pre-Essen gap for great game releases and it would have filled the slot nicely.

The rumour that I am most excited about is that Sid Meier's Civilization the board game might be a late October / early November release. For me, 'Civ' realised as a board game is the holiest of Holy Grails and the Upcoming Fantasy Flight release it number one on my wish list by some margin. Whilst I want this to be released yesterday a late October date is problematic; how am i going to fit in the time to play the other 40+ games arriving at Spiel?

A couple of Essen games will be in my hands before Spiele. 'London' by Martin Wallace (number 2 on my wishlist) will be sent out to arrive before the show and the new Kramer/Kieslng ; 'Asara' is out in Germany (without an English rules set unfortunately)

Heroes of Graxia - A review by Nigel Buckle

This card game is marketed as a deck building game – I think this is a little misleading, but it certainly has elements that should appeal to players of trading card games (in particular Magic the Gathering).

I won’t repeat the rules or go into too many game play specifics; you can read the manual here:

You each play a hero (6 different, all with unique abilities) but everyone shares a common card pool to obtain cards for your playdeck as the game progresses. Unlike other deckbuilding games you do not randomise the available cards in stacks with a subset available for each game. Rather you divide the cards into 4 types – monsters, units, spells, equipment and randomise those, then during the game 4 cards of each type are always available and you select from just those. This makes setup and put away a breeze, unlike other games of this type where you have to sort the cards into individual stacks.

In Heroes of Graxia you have 2 actions in a turn, and during your turn you can buy as many cards as you can afford (into your discard pile), then discard any remaining cards, and then draw a new hand.

You win by having the most victory points – these are gained from defeating monsters and also from killing your opponents units.

Unlike other deck building games, this feels more like a Rochester draft, you have not got unlimited access to all the card types, rather you can pick from the ones available at the start of your turn. This means you have to adapt your game as you play, rather than work out how you are going to build your deck for this game and then do it.

This game has significant player interaction – the game actively encourages you to attack your opponents through the way victory points are collected and the bonuses to player vs player combat many items and spells give.

There is a definite learning curve, the temptation is to buy as many cards as you can afford each turn, but I suspect this is sub-optimal play, unless they are all cards that give you victory points. There is currently no way to remove cards from your deck – defeated units go to your discard pile, but there is one spell that allows you to steal a spell from your opponent as they cast it.

I like it, but the game is not perfect. You will find yourself adding up attack and defence numbers all the time, are you strong enough to kill that monster, how much damage will it do to you, what values your opponents have, how the spells and mercenaries in your hand will alter combat. This can get bit tiresome, especially as the values get large in the mid to end game, and asking your opponent what their values are is a signal you are considering attacking sometime soon. Possibly this can be overcome with a player aid tracking the values for each player and updated each turn. Multiplayer can be vicious, and players need to be careful they are not setting up an opponent to win, for example you attack one opponent leaving yourself damaged and weak to an attack from a 3rd. To stop ganging up each player can only be attacked once per round, once you have your turn you are then eligible to be attacked again – this means if you are badly damaged by an attack you may not have enough cards/actions to fully recover leaving you vulnerable to another attack by a different player. The game requires the players to ensure they don’t help another player too much.

The game is very portable and the art work although not spectacular is perfectly servicable and helps the theme. You get 6 plastic figures, each representing one of the heroes in the game, but they are totally superflous to the game.

Overall, it is a game that will stay in my collection and I expect to see being played regularly. If your gaming tastes include Magic the Gathering or similar CCGs, and are looking for a non-collectable card game with a strong drafting mechanic and don’t mind adding up values repeatedly during a game I’d recommend this one.

The best game played in 2010, IGA shortlist - and a jury fantasy

On Wednesday evening i played the best game of the 200 odd i have played in 2010. It has everything you could want in modern Eurogame design ; multiple paths to victory, multiple game ending conditions, scarcity of time and resources, every action you take effects all the other players, the a seamless balance between strategy and tactics. We talk of ‘interlocking game mechanics’ as a hall mark of good game design , this game surpasses that ugly description and when playing i thought it was an Orrerry , so perfect did the mechanics fit together.

So what was this wonderful new game of 2010? Well I am being a bit misleading here, its only new in that I have not played it in 2010 (or 2009). First published in 2002 its ......Puerto Rico.

So having reminded myself of what the perfect Eurogame should look like i stated thinking about the shortlist for the International Gamers Awards and how these games matched up to the acme of modern boardgame design.

I think there are a lot of very good and worthy games on the list, but nothing that stands head and shoulders above its peers and none that should sit on the top shelf next to Puerto Rico. The awards are actually for games published in the year to June 2010 so there is some overlap with 2009 – though i think 2009/10 (for Eurogames) was consistently good but lacks the two or three stellar games that would make 2009/10 a great vintage, in bordeaux terms its a 1983 rather than a 1982. From the finalists (Last Train to Wensleydale, Egizia, Vasco Da Gama, Rise of Nations, Fresko, Age of Industry, Shipyard, Dungeon Lords, World Without End, Hansa Teutonica, Endeavor, Glen more) a case could be made for any of them to win. However if the three top games from the previous year were up for comparison (Le Havre, Automobile, Dominion) it would be no contest – each of these 2009 games would be a stand out, almost automatic pick, for best of year. And the same would apply if you were to introduce winners from previous years (Agricola, Through the Ages and Caylus). So the jurists have an interesting choice ahead of them and because they use a transferrable vote system there really could be any game winning the laurels (as St Petersburg did in 2004)

So on to my thoughts on the games - first i should qualify any negative comments by saying I own all of them (bar Shipyard which i traded) and would happily play all of them again many times (bar.....shipyard).

I have played all of the games on the shortlist at least three times. Indulging a fantasy that I am a jurist (and I had just played Puerto Rico before sitting down with my voting pencil) I would immediately strike two games from the voting ballot.

‘Shipyard’ (4 plays, Geek rating 5) great theme and mechanics can’t hide a game decided by unbalanced victory conditions – in the four games i have played the winner has, in every case, been the person who pulled the best combo of end game scoring bonuses.

‘Rise of Empires’ (5 Plays, Geek rating 5) is a poor implementation of a great idea. The ‘A/B’ turn mechanic is original; the rest of the game needed a lot more development to do the kernel mechanic justice

Two other games I’d find it difficult to vote for would be ‘Age of Industry’ and ‘Fresko’ – ‘Age of industry’ (5 plays, rating 8.5) because it’s a reworking of ‘Brass’ which got a stab at the award in 2008 and Fresko (4 plays, geek rating 8 ) because I am not sure what are you voting for ; the base or expanded game? Moreover whilst Fresko is a very good game it’s not a great one. The mechanics work with the theme better than any other game on the shortlist, but beyond that it’s not a stand out as a gamers game

Carrying on in reverse order the next two games I’d eliminate have great 'hooks' that it is a funky newish mechanic that engrosses me into the game, and I really enjoy playing both, but I think the games are beyond the hook fall just short of greatness. The first is Vasco Da Gama (5 plays, Geek raing 8) which is fun to play but after my fifth game i had not seen any variation in the way the games evolved. The action purchase mechanic though is great fun , however this is the whole challenge of the game and the roles selection, recruitment and ship movement lack the something that would move this game from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

The second is ‘Egizia’. ‘Egizia’s (3 plays) 'hook' is the Nile action selection mechanic. It’s great fun, full of the ubiquitous agonising choices. The rest of the game feels slightly Knizaesque with a splash of Stone Age. Unlike ‘Vasco’ there is multiple paths to winning this game. Unfortunately, like ‘Shipyard’ the difference between winning and losing can be decided by what end game bonus cards you draw and their synergy with previously drawn bonus cards.

The next to be struck off the list is ‘Glen More’ (3 plays) – it’s original and challenging, however with more than 3 players or with any players the slightest bit prone to AP it’s a write off. This game falls between two stalls, a fast paced tile laying game and a real brain burner. Because the luck of the tile draw can have a fairly big effect on the game then it should be a sort of gamers Carcassonne, instead it can outstay its welcome.

The last two games to be struck off are ones I love.

First up is ‘World without End’ (7 plays, geek rating 8.5) ; it’s a great experience game of the ‘bad things happening to you’ genre. However unlike, for example ‘In the year of the dragon’ the bad stuff can’t be planned for other than taking an efficient generalist approach. And you really need to know the events to avoid disaster. After seven plays of ‘World without End’ i can’t make my mind up if its a good game or not; i know I like playing it and maybe that should be enough.

‘Dungeon Lords’ (3 plays, rating 7) is as much fun as you can have playing a Euro. However, take the mechanics and imagine the theme, as say, castle building in 14th Italy to fight off Condottiere you’d have a run of the mill game which is just a little too fiddly. The theme and production make this game, I’m not sure it’s enough to be a game of the year.

So that leaves three games.

The two that don't quite make the pinnacle have a lot in common – they feel like ‘old school’ designs, b both are polished games that scale well, have multiple paths to victory and subtle player interaction.

‘Endeavor’ (11 plays, geek rating 9), with its feint echoes of Goa and Struggle of Empires ‘, is a pared down design that plays incredibly quickly.

‘Hansa Teutonica’ (5 plays, Geek rating 8) also has echoes of Goa, in Hansas’ case with a player ‘tech’ board, in Endeavor it is the buildings chose each round. ‘Hansa’ is a very simple idea but has multiple paths to victory and every game i have played has been quite distinct, with each strategy having an answer – almost a ‘rock, paper, scissors, stone Euro’, of these two I marginally prefer Endeavor. Why would these two great games not be my pick? Because though they are both wonderful they are clever remixes of older ideas

By process of elimination that leaves ‘Last Train to Wensleydale’ (3 plays, Geek rating 8) and of the games on the shortlist it’s the one I have played the least and the longest since I played it. I feel a little ambivalent towards ‘Wensleydale’ – in the games i played I thought some routes into the map were better than others, though that may be inexperience. On the other hand (i must qualify this by saying i am not much of a train gamer) it feels like a radically new approach to train game design.

Given my ability to predict awards and the transferrable voting system that ther IGA uses then don't be suprised to see shipyard win!

I can't think of any other games that meets the award criteria and that would be a winner here. If i had to pick 10 then i would sub in Chaos in the Old World (its a Euro!, but maybe not a Family strategy game...) for Shipyard and 'Imperial 2030' for 'Rise of Empires'.

In conclusion its a strong field full of games i am going to enjoy playing for years to come - but nothing as good as Puerto Rico.

Games that missed the shortlist that I think worthy of inclusion include Homesteaders and Assyria


August update

I think one of the most important things about writing a blog is to keep it updated on a regular basis. This clashes with the most important thing about being a boardgame retailer - keeping on top of your orders. August has (so far) surpased June and July for orders. I am delighted the shop has been so successful - and especially proud of the boardgame geek survey results

However, the time invested in the business means less time for playing games; I think my 500 plays of 2009 is going to be a lot less in 2010. Not neccesarily a bad thing as less play time means (i hope) more focused game time. Last night Le Havre got it first 2010 outing - and it was way overdue. Having played it to death upon its 2008 release (15 games in a few months) i burnt out. Last nights game was a three player, which is Le Havre's sweet spot. Within 5 minutes of the start I had goosebumps running up my arms - the game is just head and shoulders above anything published in 2009 or 10. It was the closest finish i have seen , I tied with Alan How with Paul Heald not to far behind.

The beauty of Le havre is its simplicity (take stuff or use a building) , its pacing (it has a slow, then exponential growth) and its balance - if you make a false move, usually an overextension in the middle game you end up like a tight rope walker buffeted by winds, swaying back and forth to get back to an upright position.

Merkator, Rosenberg's follow up to Le Havre, will be released at Essen and this is top of my buy list. Hanno Girke, the publisher, has described it as 'Le Havre on Steroids' - that's good enough for me.

Who needs a holiday?

I know i do. After the busiest two months for boardgameguru (with the exception of December 2009) since i started trading i am feeling a little in need of a break. I had been puzzled as to why June and July have been so busy - it's not been an excpetioanl period for new releases, and i thought we are at the start of the mother of all austerity drives in the nation's finances. The answer, i understand is that folks are cutting back on expensive holidays. So instead of an all inclusive in Ibiza we are camping in Cornwall, saving a grand or so, and spending a % of the savings on 'treats' - so hobby shops are not doing too badly. Moreover, i think people are buying more games to take on their holiday; perhaps not trusting to the British weather.

My 5 day holiday will be spent with my family in Rugby (long gone are trips to the airport). And with a nephew and niece waitng who lap up boardgames i have got to plan my packing quite carefully - last year they loved Finca, Livingstone, Carcassonne and Niagara. This year, a year older, i think it might be time to try them on some new stuff. So far i have ruled out Brass and 18xx but that leaves quite a few options...

Reading matter

There are very few books about Boardgames. I should not be too suprised given the wealth of information on the net. However, one book that i have just got back into stock and have been reading and re-reading is 'Hobby Games : The Best 100'. It's 100 short (3 or 3 pages) articles by designers and publisher's about their favourite games by other designers. For such a diverse group of writers the standard is very high. Many of the games are celebrations of games from the writer's youth - i.e when they had time to play long games. It has made me re-evaluate how i look at some of the games listed, and even purchase a few. Thoroughly reccomended (as is it's companion book 'Family Games : the Best 100')

Not reccomended though is 'Things we think about games' - this book is a collection of 140 Pensees garnered from an internet site. The contributors are no less authoratative than the writers in the 'Hobby Games book' - its just that the internet wisdom does not translate to the printed page. Many of the 140 thoughts are one liners occupying a whole page - not exactly value for money, even more so when the pearl of wisdom is to 'Keep your nails trim' or to 'shuffle the discard pile just before needed' .May be these thoughts caused an interesting internet debate - on the printed page they just look shallow and pointless.

Age of Steam vs. Steam

Not a match up - i did a rules match up some time ago. More of a sales report.

Since Steam has been released it has outsold Age of Steam by a factor of 35 to one at boardgameguru.

I am still to play Steam, having had my railway game thirst slated by a plays of AOS and Wensleydale last year. I have traded my copt of AOS away and i think the next time i want to play with the Choo Choos it will be Steam

Age of Industry - not Brass Lite!

Played Brass 'Lite' - 'Age of industry' on Tuesday at London on Board , which meant i had to relearn how to play 'Brass', which did my head in. It was a very competitive game - with 4 players fighting over last place. Scott seemed to have the knack of building mines and Iron Works at just the right time which game hime a clear win . The rest of us demonstarted all the capitalist nous of the Luddites and the tactical skill of the Keystone cops. Martin and i had no excuse as we are Brass veterans - however the transferable skills were a hinderance, it felt like i was Tap Dancing in a Tango comeptition - they are both dance types after all :)

Off to play it tonight and try again.

I like it it a lot

Workshop of the World

Two of my top ten games have canal construction and the early days of the Industrial Revolution as a central theme. The news that another was coming out, that is was a Ragnar design split in to two eras, a Railway and a Canal era, made me think instantly that the Ragnars were making a game similar to ‘Brass’ or'Canal Mania' - However it bears only a superficial resemblence to either game, and for ‘Brass 2’ we have ‘Age of Industry’ released on the same day as ‘Workshop of the World’ at the UK Expo on Saturday 5th June.

Contents and set up

The major industrial towns and cities of England, Wales and Southern Scotland are depicted on the map (hereafter referred to as ‘towns’); they are connected by rectangular Links in which players can build Canals and in the second part of the game Railways. Most connections between towns are of a one link length, some are two and these tend to be links between the areas at the fringes of the map. Each town has a number on it between two and four which denotes income when a connection is built from the town and also its industrial capacity. Each town is also colour coded to show its industrial output, Heavy Industry, Light Industry, Textile, Craft or Port. The board contains a demand track for each of these industry types. The board is surrounded by an income track (its money that wins this game, not VPs, thematically correct as I doubt many industrialists would trade a bent penny for a VP).

There is also a deck of 39 cards which are either town cards corresponding to a location on the board or wildcards which refer to a town of a 2, 3 or 4 capacity.

Game setup and play is very simple. Each player is given a set of double sided counters (one side Canal and one side Railway) and wooden industry cylinders in their colour , 50 money and two random (and kept secret) demand counters the demand counters correspond to the industries on the board. Six starting cards are separated from the deck, the deck is shuffled and, depending on the number of players, a number of cards are set aside (these have a space on the board as they may be used). The six starting towns which are shuffled and placed on top of the draw deck and a number equal to the number of players are drawn and placed on the board. We are now good to go.

Game Play

The first thing players do is look at their secret demand counters and simultaneously reveal one. This counter is placed on the demand track. (As no one owns any industry on the board yet or has won an auction I wonder why this was not just a random draw?). The second demand counter is kept and may be used at the end of the era, or during the second era.
Before I describe a game turn I better explain what you are trying to achieve. The aim of the game is to acquire as much money as possible, (as stated earlier there is no glory VPs in them dark satanic mills). You make progress up the income track each turn by building links on the board and, at the end of each era for links you have place on the board, with your largest contiguous link being worth two pounds per link, compared to shorter or solitary links which are worth one. You also get money for your industries which are placed in towns that have a demand for their corresponding industry types.

So on to the mechanics.

The number of turns in each era depends on the number of players; six with five players, seven with four and nine with three.

Each turn as many cards from the deck are laid on the board as there are players. Players then simultaneously place coins in their hands (you can bid zero) to bid for turn order. Bids are revealed and the turn order is decided by who paid the most, if there’s a tie (which there will often be) it’s decided on existing turn order (they paid for the order before so why lose it; there is no catch up mechanism in this game. It can be harsh if you value the auctions incorrectly)
Then, in turn order, players pay the amount they bid to the bank and pick one of the face up town cards, place one of their industry tokens on the town named on the card and then can build one or two links starting from that town or from the first link built. Canals cost £3 per link and in the second era railways £2 (this cost reflects the fact that, in real terms, Canals were more expensive to build than Railways). Income on the income track is scored for each town where you have an industry you have made link to with the links placed that turn. At the beginning of the game this will be just one town scored (for example if I take the card for Manchester and build one link to Liverpool then i will score £4 on the income track. If I have an industry in Liverpool as well then I will score £7).

This is one of the only parts of the game that I have found new players finding difficult to grasp that you only score for links built that turn, not for connections made using links built on previous turns. If you take a town card where all the links out of that town are already built then you have the option to either just place an industry on the town or discard the card and draw a card from the set aside pile ; described in the rule book as ‘a gamble is a gamble’. A couple of people I have played with felt this introduced a luck element into the game, however I believe this is factored out by the valuation you place on the cards on the initial selection.

The crux of this game is valuing the auctions correctly. This requires you to not only know what taking each town is available is worth to you but also what it is worth to the other players. If all of the towns are equal value to you then a low bid is fine, however if you need one and only one then you have to bid higher, however if that town is only useful to you then you might consider a lower bid. You might also make a small bid to keep you ahead in turn order looking ahead to potential tie breaks in the next round. Cash remaining at the end of the game is victory points. For the first six turns you only have 50 pounds to bid with and build links and you need to budget for this. You can raise additional cash by going back on the income track two spaces for a pound but this is a an uneconomic exchange. The game winner will be the person who has the best understanding of the value of the auctions.

At the end of an era the players receive cash equal to the score on the income track (which is then reset to zero), two for each link in their largest contiguous network of links and for each industry in a town that has demand for its industry (for example if I have two industries in ports and there are three demand tokens on the blue port track I will receive six pounds). Before the demand income is awarded each player has the opportunity to place their second demand token on the corresponding track. All of the canal links are removed from the board, however all the industries on the board remain.

The second, Railway era, then begins. All the town cards are shuffled together and the same number as the first era set aside. Each player receives two randomly drawn demand tokens and all players simultaneously select a token (this might be one retained from the first era) to place on the demand track.

The only difference from the canal era is that links, now railways cost only two pounds to place. Whilst the mechanics are the same the auctions have a different character in the second era because there will be a lot of industries on the board and the payoffs for building links is higher and the cost of building is lower. In the first era building a second link on your turn can be a loss making move (cost £3, payoff £2 or £1). In the Railway era the second link is likely to break even, and more importantly might just block a rival from placing a link they desperately need (to say join two railways networks into one contiguous network). Strategic placement of industries in the first era will pay off in the second; it can worth paying a little extra in the auction to keep your industries within easy linking reach for big payoffs in the Rail era And if it’s in the centre of the board you have set yourself nicely (assuming you have not overpaid)

Each town has a capacity of two to four industries, and should a player select a card where the capacity is reached he replaces another players industry with one of his own. This can happen early in the game (most likely in the two capacity towns), but is much more likely to happen towards the end. This adds another factor to add into the auction valuation.

When the Railway era finishes (there will be no more tows cards to draw), each player may place one more demand token and the scoring is calculated the same way as the first era. The player with the most money wins.

So what do I think of the game?

I like it. The rules are easy to understand and players quickly get a feel for the amounts they should be bidding in the auctions. I usually struggle with games that require an auction for turn order, especially where the bid will go the bank regardless of how successful my bid was. I don’t in this game because the immediate pay off for you bid is not to difficult to calculate, what takes a little longer to get a feel for is the strategic placement of you industries and the values other players will place on the cards available. This is not rocket science though and after a couple of turns most players will get a feel for the auctions. The game feels like it passes quickly, there can be a short delay as players decide on how much to bid, and occasionally if they have a tough choice from the town cards. The three games I have played have taken less than 90 minutes.

In the design notes the Ragnars have credited ‘Brass’ and ‘Canal Mania’ as an influence, however this game does not feel like either game and I am struggling to make to think of a game this closely resembles. If you are looking for a reprise of either of these games you are going to be disappointed. It’s lighter, the decisions are easier and the ripple effect between the eras is much less than in ‘Brass’. And the game, for a Ragnar design, feels far more abstracted than in previous games.

One of my gaming buddies likes heavier economic games did not like ’Workshop’ , however it was liked by gamers who like lighter games and most importantly it’s a hit with my wife who is my main gaming partner.

The game is for three to five players (there is a two player variant in the rules book which i have not tried yet). I think it plays best with four or five, the board is a bit more congested, it is harder to build a network and the fewer rounds with four or five players make each auction feel crucial to get right and therefore more interesting.

Production quality

The graphics are bright and clear. The production is not quite up to the standards of the most recent Ragnar games but it is functional and the bright colours help game play rather than get in the way. The rules are clear, short and unambiguous.


I have seen players wildly over bid on the first turn of the canal era and this has crippled them. For a light to medium complexity game this might be a flaw if you are intending on playing it with casual gamers. I now advise new players to, if in doubt, underbid on an early round

The plastic coins provided with the game. The ten pound coins are only really used as money storage as they are too large to be held in small hands for bidding.

However, these are mild complaints and in balance I would recommend the game.

The game is available from the Ragnar website http://www.ragnarbrothers.co.uk/html/workshop_of_the_world.html

A winning streak, normal service and another good overlooked game

I am very much of the school that 'it's the taking part that counts', and if i was not then there would not really be a school to belong to. My game victories are not too frequent, and if my performance at boardgames were to be say , imagined into a cricket team i'd bat number nine and only be allowed to throw down my Chinamen when the opposition had already passed 400. Neverthless i love games, with a real prediliction for ones i am bad at, or at least do badly at.

However, last week i had a purple patch. I won a game of 'Tigris and Euphrates' (proof that if a monkey could play chess for a million years it might beat Kasparov) against a seasoned pro, i then won a game of 'Power Grid' on BrettSpielWelt against a field of 500+ gamers, accidently won a game of Innovation and then a game of 'Giants'. Thnking that a 30 year long bad patch had come to an end, i challened my wife to a game of 'World Without End' - and that's when normal service was resumed. Losing by six points i complimented her on her strategy, to which she replied that she did not have a strategy, had been thinking about work throughout the game and had, effectively played randomly. Hubris is an unatractive quality, and thanks to Donna for reminding me of my boardgamng place.

'Innovation', if you don't know already, is the new game by Carl Chudyk (of GLory to Rome fame). Gameplay feels a bit like Glory to Rome (via Race for the Galaxy) but the game is more of a brain burner and quite unforgiving. Not having a copy i am insanely jealous of the foresighted 120 who picked up the pre-production copies that were printed. I predict this will the gaming sensation of 2010 when it comes out later this summer

On to the overlooked game - it's Giants by Mategot. Until recently i was selling this game at £14.99 and i now regret not keeping a copy. It's very good. The first thing you notice about the game is the lavish production, it has an attractive board (depicting Easter island) and imposing looking Moais that you are erecting for VPs. One grumble is that the scuplts of the workers, Priests and Cheifs are different (usually a good thing) but here it just added a bit of cinfuion to the board, you can tell them apart by colour and base shape but I would have preferred them a little more uniform.

The game itself is a hybrid worker placement/Pick up and deliver game with a twist of auction. Each round you auction Moais (which must be sculpted by your workers thus using them), you then place workers, your chief or your sorcere on the board. The workers are placed to help move your (and other players) moais to the VP squares surrounding the Island, the sorceror can be used to get you more workers, auction tokens, logs or a headdress for the Moais (extra VPs if delivered). The Chief can act as a strong worker or as a Sorceror under certain conditions. Both the cheief and the Sorceror can be used to reserve a juicy VP square for your Moai.

After your tribe has been place don the board you take it in turn to move the Moais and headdresses. This is one of the most intereting partsof the game, as it requires more than one worker to shift the larger (more VPs) Moais and to do so you may have to use hexs on network created by another player. Because there is no restiction on the number of workers, or from which player, that may occopy a hex, then coopartion is very likely. And you get rewarded for doing so, if i were to use another players worker to help move a Moai then they will score VPs.

The Moais starton one side of the island and can ne movced to VP squares sourrounding the island. The biggest payoffs come at the far side of the island and the larger the Moai (they come in three sizes) the bigger the VP multiple. Headress for the Moais (neet little scuplts - some of which look like Tommy Cooper's fez) start at the oppositbe end of the Island to the Moais and the points scored for headresses are highest on the opposite side (nearest the where the Moais start)

There is a delicious tension in the game; do i go the large paying Moais which will take a few turns to get there or try and score quick points and possibly end the game (it fisnhs after a certain number of Moais are built, depending on the number of players)quickly? There is alos a tension between building up your tribe to help socre the big moais or gettng them on the board quickly.

The only critcism of the game is that there are not many paths to victory. Its about scoring Moais and helping others move them, and whilst this might be intersting for a few games it might not have much long term replayability. Which is probably why it ended up in the bargain bin, as an RRP of £45 for a game that you will only play 3 or 4 times is a bit steep. Nevertheless, if you can find a cheap copy i'd snap it up. I only wish i had when the were sitting on the shelf at £15.

Hotel Samoa

Of the few new games I have played in April Hotel Samoa is the one that has excited me the most, it's not the best game I have played this month (that's Fresco – but it’s a close call). The dynamics in the game are unusual and the auction at the heart of the game is a stroke of genius.
The premise of the game is that players are hotel owners on the paradise isle of Samoa (an island I’m particularly fond of - not because of I have ever visited but because of their bone crunching and free running Rugby Union team. One of their players carries my favourite nickname in rugby – ‘The Chiropractor’). Over a holiday season the hoteliers aim to make as much money as possible from tourists who flock to the island. Establishing the victor at the end of the game is simple, it's the player with the most money.

Each player starts the game with an eight room hotel, 25 Gold and 11 auction cards. The game is played over 12 rounds, or weeks, in which groups of tourists (Norwegians, Brits, Germans and Japanese) will arrive on the island (and depart) and on arrival will search for the cheapest hotel room. These tourists are represented by cards, with one card from each nation being randomly placed in the first four weeks, then in the second and the third. In each week players bid for tourists and hotel developments. Each player has an identical group of eleven cards from to choose to play each round. Each card has two values, one is used to bid on improvements for your hotel, the other is the price you are willing to offer rooms in your hotel to the tourists. The highest bids of improvements wins, but the lowest bid for tourists wins. The same card can ‘win’ in both auctions – if it’s used in to take a tile or tourists it’s discarded. This is rather important, but more on this later.
At the beginning of the round any tourists from a nationality that has arrivals leaves the hotel and catches the plane home. As tourists pay up front for the room, you want them to have as short a stay as possible. The plane that brings in a nationality of tourists will also take home any tourists of that nationality on the island. The only other way to hasten their departure is to play the ‘hotel closed’ auction card which is both a null bid and sends two tourists home from your hotel, or to purchase a tile that allows you (as a one off) to send two tourists home. A card from a tourist deck is drawn for each arrival and it will specify how many tourists arrive this week. The tourists are randomly pulled from their nations pile. On weeks six and twelve the number of tourists arriving is doubled

The build part of the auction is auctioned first and the winner can pay for a tile if he chooses, if he does not it passes to the next highest. The tiles either improve you hotel (an extra room, a luxury suite, a Swimming pool or give a one of action ; retrieve two discarded cards, send some tourists home...). Any tiles not purchased carry over till purchased
The winner of the tourist auction can take up to as many tourists as he can fill rooms, some tourists are rich; they pay double the room rate, some are celebrities – any tourists put in a room next to them pays double, some are lovers and will fit in a room with another lover and some will pay extra if the hotel has a swimming pool. If there are any tourists left after the winner has taken his pick, the next lowest card played entitles its owner to pick from the remaining tourists. If you win the auction but don’t like the look of the improvement tile or tourists you don’t have to take them – which means you can take the auction card back to your hand to use again in another round.

Each round a tie breaking card is moved clockwise and sits between the players. Players anti-clockwise of the card win tourist auctions and clockwise build tiles. Timing your card plays around the movement of the tie-break card is rather important.

Despite the fact the auction is a blind bid and if you can card count you are at a significant advantage I like this game a lot. Over the twelve rounds you are only going to win a few auctions, planning which ones is important However this needs to be balanced with not overpaying for tiles or under bidding for tourists, and most importantly taking advantage of your opponent’s mistakes. The game repays good timing, clever bluffing and being able to value the tourists and tiles correctly – there is no automatic catch up / ‘keep the scores close ‘mechanism and the final victory point tally can vary widely. Another thing I like about the game is that getting the timing right means you can reverse a large lead in the last couple of rounds.

The game’s sweet spot is at four players, it provides just the right amount of tension in the auctions, and with more a good memory helps. The game plays in an hour and I think it offers a lot for both geeks and family gamers

The Waste Land

In gaming terms, April 2010 has been the crullest month since i started logging my plays on Boardgamegeek. We are 22 days into the month and i, to my horror, have only played eighteen games so far. In a normal month i would usually log between 40 and 50 games played, this month i don't think i'll reach twenty five. Whilst i'm feeling sorry for my (gaming) self i should also mention that i have not mamaged to write any game reviews for two months. i have about five reviews 'on the go' - on the go being two lines ending with 'great', 'good' or 'average'.

Of the new games i have played this month Fresco is (borderline)great. It was Greg Schlosser (i think) who described Fresco as a 'Eurogame 101', and that's an almost perfect summary. There's nothing original in the game, it's got worker placement, turn order manipulation, a market, conversion of one good into another.....however, the game is more than the sum of it's parts. One of the first things that came into my mind when i played Fresco was that it's the game Colonia 1322 should have been, Colonia also described by Greg Schlosser (again i think) as a 'parody of a Eurogame'. However, in terms of game weight and complexity Fresco is closer to Stone Age than Queen's bloated Essen 2009 offering.

One of the things i like about Fresco is that the theme is original and integrates with the mechanics seemlessly. Your workers are artists, helping to paint a fresko onto a cathedral ceiling, turn order choice effects the mood of your workers and going early (getting out of bed early in game terms) too often means one of them might just stop working. Their mood can be improved by a trip to the theatre or having a lie in, and if their mood improves sufficently then you might recruit another worker to your happy band. getting up early means you are first at the paint market, you will have have first choice but will have to pay a premium for the goods on offer. Strolling down to the market late morning will get you some bargains but all the paint you need might have been sold to the early birds.

One thing i particulalry like about the game is the goods conversion ; instead of the ubiquitous wood + stone = ...yawn you mix paints to make secondary colour paints (in one of the expansions you can futher mix to tertiary colours - though i think this might be straying into Colonia territory)

This conversion is easy to explain to non gamers. And what you do with the paints is simple to explain as well - you are painting a Fresko. The Fresko is dvided into a five by five aquare grid and tiles, with the required paints and the victory points awarded for completing a section printed on tiles that are randomly laid over the grid. Every worker you allocate to the Cathedral paints a section of the fresco, and if the bishop (a wooden figure you can pay to move around the grid) sees you paint the ceiling or is directly underneath the section being painted you score bonus points. The bishop is pleased that you have completed a piece of the artwork and grants you an income every turn for each piece completed.

and thats the joy of this game, you can explain the mechanics by telling the story of the game - there is no part where the mechanics disconnect with the theme. The other actions include painting portraits to help raise some cash and visiting the theatre to improve the mood of your workers.

The game comes boxed with three expansions, which is very generous of the publisher. I suspect that the original design of the game included the expansions as standard, they don't feel like a bolt on and whilst the bascic game is fine for family gamers and geeks alike, the expansions just pushes the comlexity up a notch.

Fresco has received some deserved Spiel des jahres speculation and i think it is worthy of the shortlist, though i doubt it will pip Tobago for the big one.

Top sellers

I never quite trust the statistics produced by my webshop's software, however checking against other records my mistrust is misplaced.

My current best sellers (based on the last 90 days) are:-

1) Runewars
2) Agricola - Farmers of the Moor
3) Twilight Sruggle
4) Summoner Wars - Orcs v Elves (if i added in the other base set this would be no 1)
5) Municipium

Numbers 2 and 5 are no suprise because they are sale items - Esdevium (the UK distributor) has deeply discounted these games and i have bought them by the truck load and passed the savings on to my customers. Farmers is an excellent expansion for Agricola, to my shame i have only played it once, despite my having played the base game over 50 times. Municipium is, from gaming buddy reports, a decent game. It suffers by comparision with the Essen 2008 competition and a very steep RRP of £45. However, the cheap copies have all gone now. I have yet to play Runewars, depite excellent reports. I am not suprised Summoner Wars has been so popular - it's quick to play, easy to learn and could be described as 'Magic the Boardgame'. The new edition of Twilight Struggle seems to have brought a whole new generation of players to this amazing game, and i see it played a lot at my gaming clubs - which is unusal as 2 player games aren't common on public nights.

Without counting Dominion and its progeny, bubbling under the top 5 are Thunderstone (love it but it needs an expansion ASAP), Carson City (there seems to be a resurgence in interest in this game after initial so so reports, Hansa Teutonica, Dungeon Lords, Republic of Rome (see comment re TS above) and Vasco da Gama.

I'm sure Campaign Manager 2008 would be a top seller if i could get some more!

FITS and Ubongo

Its not very often that I have FITS or ubongo in stock and to have on the shelf at the same time is a first.

FITS, short listed for the sdj last year, is (basically ) 'tetris the board game'. Ubongo follows the same principal of fitting odd shapes into a pattern but is played against the clock and has an additional game element as you collect gems, which gems you collect depending on how quickly (compared to your opponents) you complete the puzzle. Ubongo has spawned ubongo extreme and Ubongo 3d. Both add exponential levels of difficulty to what is a challenging game to start with. FITS ('fill in the spaces') has seen some unofficial expansions. When I first played FITS I thought it could benefit from a timer. Though having played Ubongo I am not so sure, as what makes Ubongo shine is having to complete the puzzle, shout 'ubongo!' And then select your gems. Of the two games I prefer Ubongo because it feels more competitive, FITS has a winner but works just as well solitaire, I have found both games to be very popular with non gamers who like the puzzle solving element of the games. However they are not gateway games, more of an end in them selves. The games prove popular, if relatively unknown, with gamers as warm up or warm down.

Carson City

This game has been staring at me from the game shelf since Essen begging to be played. I don't know why it has taken 4 months to get it to table; maybe some unfavourable reports from my games group, maybe the plethora of new games that have grabbed my attention.

Well i regret the wait because i really enjoyed my first play. The first round or two were a bit odd because it is a worker placement game (with guns) I and my opponenets were playing it Agricola style i.e not contesting the action spots. Then half way through all hell broke loose and colts were drawn at every opportunity. We played with the Indian expansion, and first and second place went to the players who had chosen him twice as their role. The biggest cowboy in town came last. In the analysis afterwards (all new to the game) we felt that the game is going to take a few plays to fathom the strategies. The dominant cowboy did not bully the other players enough by nicking their income from buildings and the land grabbers did not change gear by using their income effectively. I keep thinking about the game, i particularly like the cash limits on the characters, the progressive cost of buying VPs and the interactions between the building types. I think the next time i try it it will be with the 'might is right' variant to eliminate the luck of the die rolls.

Thank the lord Counter magazine only comes out four times a year

On the day my Counter magazine arrives i sit up till 2 reading, then lie awake thinking about whether i agree/disagree with the reviews. I think if it were a weekly i'd have to turn to sleeping tablets.

The February issue is my favourite as it lists the contributors top 5 games from the previous year - it always provokes a lot of mental debate about what my own top five would be (and when i have finished playing the highlight 2009 games i'll post them on this blog)

I was delighted that the editor of Counter, Stuart Dagger, selected 'A Brief History of the World' as his number one. It's retro, it's more about the experience than winning ,it eschews clever mechancics for straight forward game play - in short everything that a game should be.

War of the Roses - Can you judge a game by the components?

War of the Roses arrived today and i have just had the best 'punching out the bits' experience i can remember. The box weighs about 4 Kilos and is just a litlle bigger than a standard bookshelf size game. So what's in there? Lead or gold? Gold! It might be only February but i think i can safely predict that this will win any award going for the best produced game of 2010. The quality of the components are staggering. The board is six folded, very thick and with superb clear artwork. Turn it over and it has a map of the historic battles of the subject matter. Each player has a screen and an order planning board - both are made from the thickest card, the player screens are huge with summaries of important rules and a history of the Wars. The chits and tokens are up to the same standard. The only niggle is that the picture of the Captain of Calais token is a scanned picture of some modern day bloke (Peter Hawes?). I'd hope that nonensense was not going to be repeated after the design mess of 'Heads of State'. I pray that the game play is as good as the bits!

War of the Roses - can you judge a game by the rules?

The last time i read a set of rules for a ZMan published game deisgned by an Antipodean i dismissed the game as derivative, simplistic and poorly themed. The game was 'Endeavor' and how wrong could i have been - it's one of my top 5 from 2009 and i think it is a masterpiece of clear and simple board game design.

Now i have read the rules to 'Wars of the Roses twice' and and i am attracted and put off in equal measure. On the plus side it's about a period of history i find interesting (three years of studying the period did not put me off). It looks greeat. It has some intersting mechancis, especially the simulataneous move programming.

However, it's a Euro game (area majotity) with a bit of conflict thrown in and i'm worried that Euro mechanics and The War of the Roses are not amarriage made in heaven.

Secondly there are some historical inaccuracies that i find annoying. If you play with four then two players are Lancastrian and two Yorkist. It only matters for an area majoirty calculation and you can't confer with your 'partner' about tactics. Secondly for Area Majority calculation players get votes in Parliament - not in synch with political dymanics of the 15th century at all.

The other thing that worries me is that with the hidden planning but sequential actions that game play might be a bit too chaotic.

Despite my reservations i am still looking for a scuccessor to 'Kingmaker' and however remote the possiblity this is it i'll give it a go.

Zman and the UK distributor seem to have learnt form the pricing mistake of Peter Hawe's previous game, 'Heads of State', and have set a RRP of £49.99 for 'Wars of the Roses'. It's still on the pricy side but i hope it won't end up in the bargain bin with 'Heads of State' which was priced at a truly absurd £59.99. 'Heads of State' is an ok game, ironically well worth the £14.99 i sell it for, but a complete waste of money at full RRP.

RuneWars - A review by Nigel Buckle

I won’t detail the mechanics of Runewars, you can look at the rules for that First impressions are this is a lavish game with a price tag to match, huge colourful box and expectation of lots of great components. That’s where the disappointment hits, opening the box to find the major element is air - you get a massive insert used to hold the large punchboards, with the pre-bagged minatures in protective cardboard ‘sleeves’ to the side along with the card decks. Once you’ve opened it all out you’ll discover a misprint for the elves and the cities has been fixed and an additional punchboard included. Read the punchboards before punching and make sure you keep the right bits. Then once you’ve punched it all out you’ll realise the huge box is unnecessary and the insert completely useless as you’ll struggle to get all the bits back in the box unless you turn it over or throw it away. However that’s the main disappointment for me - the huge box, both in terms of expectation of it being full to the brim with cardboard and plastic, and in terms of storing and transporting the game. Really it could have come in a Runebound sized box with no problem. Game wise there is quite a bit going on with various sub-systems all driven by a card flip mechanic, no dice here. The map is made up of geometric hexes, so each game will be a bit different, and most of the hexes are populated with neutral units that you can try to get to join your side (good luck with that) or attack. Each player controls a race, and they are all subtly different, which is nice. Each has unique units and resources, giving each a unique feel without having a pile of special rules. There are a bunch of heroes, all with their own unique power too. The game last 6 years (4 seasons per year) maximum and once you know what you are doing you can finish the game surprisingly quickly. Unlike other conflict games of this type the combat system is very straightforward and very quick, just fight 5 rounds (one per unit shape, often you’ll only resolve 2 or 3) and then see what units are left standing, side with the most wins. Central mechanic is all players simultaneously pick an action card for the season and they activate in order. This helps reduce downtime and increase tension - will your opponents be attacking, recruiting, or harvesting? In the early games it is easy to lose sight of the requirements to win - you need 6 runes and you start with 2. Heroes can find more by questing, winter will often bring 1 or more additional rune into play and you can take them from your opponents. Once everyone understands the pacing of the game things get quite tense as you have to optimise your actions, units and heroes - the game plays so fast it is hard to recover from a major disaster (such as losing a fight to a neutral you expected to win). For some people looking for a Leader/Personality dominated game where Heroes run around as the main focus this game will be a disappointment - you need your armies to win and most of your actions will centre around them and your empire. The heroes are a bit of a sideshow, but an important one - the runes they can collect are often what you need to win. What you have is an area control game with planning. You can only fight with your armies once a year (you activate an area, place a token in it and move units into the area - and they are then stuck there until spring comes along), meaning there are hard choices about when and where you attack and can you defend a counter attack back? What I like: Games will be different - at least for a while, the sides are different, the map is variable, the seasons have different effects, the heroes are different - and you can add in encounters as a variant adding more variety (or chaos, depending on your viewpoint). Combat feels epic, despite the fast resolution - do you use fast units that aren’t very good, or spell casters, or your big guns that might get routed before they even get a chance to fight? The card mechanic works well, and combat is over in a very short time. Deep game play without huge amounts of downtime - most of the ‘planning’ side of the game is done simultaneously with everyone thinking about card play at the same time. Then actual turns roll along fairly quickly. Simple mechanics - for all the elements the game includes: Different unit types, resources, strongholds, development, heroes, quests, duels, etc the actual rules and mechanics are remarkably simple. You will not need a pile of reference sheets and help cards to learn and play this game, but you will need a few games to learn what works and what doesn’t, how many units you probably need to win that battle etc. Objective cards - each player gets one and they are coded by alignment (half the sides are ‘good’ and half ‘evil’, the objective cards encourage you down one of those paths, do the objective get an oh so important rune as a reward. It is fun - early on you are beating up neutrals and building your empire, in the last couple of years you’ll be bumping into your opponents and possibly fighting over crucial territory. No long slow build up, if anything the game ends too quickly - but if you find that is the case the designer has included an ‘epic’ version which lasts 8 years and has you starting with less runes. There are multiple approaches to victory - build your influence and win that way (dominate the influence bids, grab the role cards, even use diplomacy to get neutral allies), concentrate on heroes, grab items, find runes, duel (and kill) your opponents heroes, concentrate on tactics cards for sneaky tricks, or just flood the map with units and grab territory. What I don’t: Box size and that the winning condition is just dragon runes, I would have liked to see more race and alignment specific victory conditions - the objectives go part of the way there, but more would be nice. The game is screaming out for expansions - if nothing else to help fill the huge box. You’ll get through most of the quest deck in a single game (as most of it is not used, you only include quests for the map tiles you are playing) and most are very similar, go to hex X, take an ability test (flip cards = the relevant attribute) look for successes. Multi-part quests etc would add variety. You’ll get through most of the season cards, and some effects are repeated, again I’d like to see more variety, even to the extent each player gets a subset of cards and picks which are included (so you know some of the possibilites and can adapt your strategy). More heroes, more races. For the hefty price tag I would have hoped for just a bit more in the original game. Overall, if you want a fast playing epic feeling fantasy conflict game you won’t go far wrong investing in Runewars - but if you are looking for a game where heroes are the main focus with armies in the background you probably need to look elsewhere.